Dawn in the Big Thicket
After years of living among Texas’s gulf prairies and marshes, and traveling primarily to the south Texas plains or the Edwards Plateau for a little variety, I finally was tempted into a third Texas ecoregion: the piney woods of east Texas.
Although I’d visited the area to search for Winkler’s Gaillardia, a rare white firewheel that grows at the Nature Conservancy’s Sandyland Sanctuary, it wasn’t until a recent guided field trip to the Sanctuary and the Watson Rare Plant Preserve that I knew a more extended trip into the area was called for.
A ranger at the Big Thicket visitor center tipped me off to an undeveloped but accessible area where I could find hundreds of sundews, another plant I was eager to locate. On Sunday morning, I returned to the spot to watch the sun rise among young long leaf pines, listening to birds whose calls I’d never heard greet the coming day.
Saltmarsh caterpillar (Estigmene acrea)
After stopping for a closer look at the lemon beebalm (Monarda citriodora) overflowing a roadside ditch, I discovered a dozen or more saltmarsh caterpillars roaming among the flowers. Most were munching on leaves or moving along stems with what passes for caterpillar haste, but one had curled itself around a grass stem and seemed to be holding on for dear life.
For the ten minutes I was in its neighborhood, it never moved. It might have been resting, or pondering a drop down into the leaf litter to begin pupating, but it reminded me of this verse from childhood:
A centipede was happy – quite!
Until a toad in fun
Said, “Pray, which leg comes after which?”
It threw her mind in such a pitch
She laid bewildered in the ditch,
Considering how to run.
Even though the caterpillar lacks the numerous legs of a centipede, and despite the fact that its movement depends on muscle contraction rather than the legs it does have, it still amused me to imagine my little friend pondering the verse attributed to Katherine Craster in her 1871 volume called Pinafore Poems. Whenever I grew indecisive as a child, one parent or the other would recite the lines: a bit of cautionary advice to prevent dithering.
I assume the curled up caterpillar ceased any dithering and moved on eventually, but it pleased me that others of its kind were available for photos.
Salt marsh larvae are highly variable in color, ranging from yellow to brown or black, but whatever the color of their bodies or hairs, I find their little faces charming.
Comments always are welcome.
Summer squash blossom (Cucurbita spp.)
Our native wildflowers are beautiful, but there’s no need for the flowers of our squash, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant to feel inferior to the Coreopsis and Gaillardia.
During a peach-picking trip to a local farm, I took time to walk the rows of ripening produce and found myself especially charmed by the squash blossoms. They resemble slices of cut cantaloupe: another member of the Cucurbitaceae, or gourd family, that will be appearing in farmers’ markets soon, and the flowers themselves are edible.
Comments always are welcome.